Distributor opinion: Some cabinetmakers are exploiting trade law for their own gain
By Missy O'Daniel
February 17, 2020 | 9:42 am CST
This article was submitted by Missy O’Daniel, president and CEO of Web-Don, Inc., a distributor of ready-to-assemble cabinets and surface products headquartered in Charlotte, NC. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Woodworking Network, its staff or management. Comments and opinions from all sides are welcome.
U.S.-China trade relations have been in the news a lot lately – our government is working to tackle broad structural trade disputes. Sensing an opportunity, a handful of businesses in the U.S. cabinet industry are trying to exploit these tensions by using U.S. trade law to further their own interests. Workers in this segment all across the U.S. could end up paying the price.
Like all industries, the cabinet business is constantly changing and innovating with the emergence of new consumer trends. We all know the influence of Amazon Prime and the resulting consumer demand for immediate delivery. In the U.S. cabinet industry, that influence has helped create a distinct, niche market of customers who need their orders filled quickly. My company, Web-Don, Inc., focuses on this niche, called “ready-to-assemble” (RTA) cabinets.
Web-Don has been importing RTA cabinets for about 10 years. We sell these cabinets to dealers and remodelers who need high-quality, quick turn-around solutions. Sometimes RTA customers assemble the cabinets, and sometimes our team does the assembly for them. Either way, our customers get the cabinets they need right away - ordered, shipped and installed in under two weeks.
Rather than attempt to meet this growing market need themselves, the “made-to-order” U.S. cabinet producers are asking the U.S. government to slap punitive duties on our imported product in an effort to limit access to this important market niche.
The RTA segment operates on an entirely different business model than made-to-order cabinet makers whose operations are built to fill more customized orders as they come in. These products have a much longer lead time, and their customers, often builders, are content to wait the six to eight weeks that it takes to obtain made-to-order cabinets.
None of this should matter to the U.S. government. The U.S. cabinet industry is booming, and the RTA sector makes up less than 10% of the total U.S. cabinet market. In fact, RTA businesses rarely cross paths with those making made-to-order products. We simply serve different market needs.
In order to meet our customers’ demands for quick turnaround, RTA companies like ours invest millions of dollars to warehouse and manage large inventories of ready-to-ship cabinets. Made-to-order companies operating in the United States have been unable or unwilling to make the necessary investments to serve this market. Perhaps this is because the success of companies like mine has done nothing to impede the growth of the made-to-order segment of the industry that continues to occupy more than 90 percent of the U.S. cabinet market.
As the head of a woman-owned, family-run building materials business in operation for 45 years, I am saddened to find myself fighting for the jobs of our 115 employees, all of whom believe in our company’s mission - as well as the loyal customers who trust in our promise to provide high-quality products and high-caliber service in a matter of days, not weeks or months.
Our company has grown by evaluating an evolving marketplace and responding to our customers’ needs. Let’s hope that the U.S. government agrees that entrepreneurial and innovative American businesses deserve to be rewarded rather than punished.
O'Daniel is part of the American Coalition of Cabinet Distributors, which represents RTA cabinet importers and distributors fighting the trade case brought forth by the American Kitchen Cabinet Alliance. The International Trade Commission will hold a final injury hearing on the matter February 20.
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